All year, we have polled experts on their favorite household goods. We wondered: What flatware would an interior designer put on his dining table? Which umbrella would the proprietor of an umbrella shop own for herself? What sunscreen would a dermatologist wear? Each column turned up a handful of tried-and-true winning picks. Now that the year is over, we have gone through and chosen our favorite from each topic — what you might call the best of the best.
Mat Sanders and Brandon Quattrone, co-founders of Consort, an interiors firm with retail outposts in New York and Los Angeles, are “huge on Crate & Barrel’s Emerge Mirror set for its simplicity and its weighted handle,” Sanders says, “which gives it a more elevated feel” ($39.95 for a five-piece place setting, crateandbarrel.com). “Clean, simple lines with a timeless feel are our go-tos. We’re not too big on overembellished or super-decorated pieces.” Bonus tip: Do not skimp on the forks; cheaper forks can have disappointingly dull tips.
With her eye for umbrella craftsmanship (and the largest collection of vintage umbrellas in the world), Jodell Egbert, owner of the shop Bella Umbrella in New Orleans, gives a thumbs-up to ShedRain, a company in Oregon. “The design is spot-on, with an extra amount of really good ribs,” she says. The Auto Open Bubble Umbrella with Sewn Fabric Border ($25, shedrain.com) is clear for visibility.
Every morning, Adam Mahr, owner of the gift and housewares shop A Mano in the District, steeps his coffee grounds in the Espro Press P7 after a favored ritual ($99.95-$119.95, espro.ca). He chooses a dark bean from Brazil, Colombia or Ethiopia, then grinds it right before brewing to preserve the beans’ oil. He heats water on the stove but cuts it off right before it boils, then heats up the stainless-steel press with hot water before putting the grounds and coffee water in — the double filter of the press keeps the grounds from sludging up the coffee. Lastly, a timer is set for four to five minutes. “Every morning, I go down, feed the dogs, make my coffee, watch ‘Morning Joe’ and then begin my day,” he says.
In his role as managing culinary director of the culinary website Serious Eats, Daniel Gritzer pushed blenders to their limit to determine which would withstand use and abuse. Although several blenders in the $200-plus category survived, he also found there were some budget winners, including the KitchenAid 5-Speed Diamond Blender ($99.99, target.com). If you are going to use blenders to grind flour, make peanut butter and heat pureed soups through pure friction every day, he would recommend investing in a top-tier model, but for normal kitchen use, he was impressed with this blender’s performance.
Michael J. Breus, a California clinical psychologist who specializes in sleep disorders, also known as the Sleep Doctor, believes sleep is a performance activity. So just as a runner invests in shoes for his or her sport, you will probably want to choose the best pillow for your sleep. His favorite, and the one he sleeps on, is V & R Naturals’ Latex Kapok Blend, which has been rebranded online as Infinite Moon’s EverPillow. The stuffing can be removed as needed for sleep preference ($99, infinitemoon.com).
The Holmes Lil’ Blizzard 8-Inch Oscillating Fan ($15.99, Amazon.com) sits on the desk of James DeSmet, who leads the engineering and operations divisions for Big Ass Fans in Lexington, Ky. “I look at it as a rugged, cost-efficient thing,” he says. “For what I want and when I want it, it’s powerful.” The oscillating feature helps cover a larger area, and although the fan is plastic, it is solid, with an artful design of the ribs — which also keeps the shroud from vibrating, reducing noise, DeSmet notes.
Pediatrician Lisa Lewis, author of the book “Feed the Baby Hummus: Pediatrician-Backed Secrets from Cultures Around the World,” has noticed many of the moms visiting her practice in Fort Worth using ring slings such as the Sakura Bloom ($88-$340, sakurabloom.com), a choice she supports. “They adjust easily for any size body to carry the baby in a variety of positions,” she says. “A mom who is not comfortable openly breast-feeding can use them as a breast cover, as well.” And, bonus for the minimalist mom: “They are simple to pack in a diaper bag.” It is important to learn proper use of a ring sling to ensure the baby is safely secured, Lewis says.
Nearly everyone we talked to recommended the Thermapen by ThermoWorks. Aaron Hutcherson, blogger at the Hungry Hutch, explains that its digital nature, clean design, compact shape and big numbers are winning points for this thermometer. “I’m a fan of those with a folding probe, as it’s much easier to insert at the proper angle than with linear pens,” he says. Hutcherson uses the Classic Super-Fast Thermapen, but Thermoworks also has the updated Mk4 version, in which the display rotates right-side-up when turned, preventing cocked necks and upside-down readings ($79-$99, thermoworks.com).
Mary Sheu, assistant professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, vacationed with her family in Hawaii soon after the state banned the sale of sunscreens with the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, but she would have packed physical sunscreen anyway. “Physical blocks are easier for people with sensitive skin,” she explains. “They’re less irritating, and they last longer. They don’t break down and become inactive with sun exposure.” Sheu likes EltaMD UV Elements Broad-Spectrum SPF 44 Tinted 2.0 ($24.72, walmart.com) because the tinted nature moderates that chalky white look physical blocks can give skin.
Sheets are more widely available than they have ever been, without even requiring a trip to the department store. “I think the direct-to-consumer economy is always great for the customer, and I love how it has spread into amazing bedding companies,” says Christiane Lemieux, author of “The Finer Things: Timeless Furniture, Textiles, and Details” and chief executive of the new textile company the Inside in New York. Lemieux says some of her favorite sheets are from Brooklinen. “I love that they strip out unnecessary costs and deliver real value,” she says. Brooklinen’s Classic Sheets in lightweight cotton percale come in a variety of bundles at different prices ($101 for queen fitted sheet and two pillowcases; $129 for queen fitted sheet, flat sheet and two pillowcases, brooklinen.com).
This past summer, Erin Barbot, an organizer in Silver Spring, Md., did her own test of laundry detergents, looking for products that were low in chemicals but still effective and affordable. “Basically, the unicorn of cleaning products,” she says. Barbot says most big brands have free-and-clear options. Her winner was Tide Purclean Unscented Laundry Detergent ($11.99 for 75 fl. oz., target.com). It’s plant-based, works in all machines and cleans well in cold water. When towels get dingy, she also likes Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Oxygen Whitening Powder. Decant products into containers or store them in baskets to make laundry day even better, Barbot says.
“I’m obsessed,” says Michel Smith Boyd, an interior designer in Atlanta, about Crate & Barrel’s stackable porcelain Logan bowls ($44.95 for eight, crateandbarrel.com). “What I look for more than anything for daily use is something sturdy that will mix with what I already own. These bowls stack, with an almost-three-inch rim . . . They’re kind of contemporary.” Pieces of the Logan collection are sold individually or in sets of eight (eight dinner plates, for example), and eight four-piece place settings would run $179.80. To set a trendy table this season, Boyd says to think about white dinnerware mixed with two other elements: muted neutral pottery and wooden serving spoons or, if you lean modern, black cloth napkins and accent dishes in a primary color.
“A linen or cotton buffet napkin is a must,” says Kaitlin Moss, blogger at the Every Hostess, which won Saveur magazine’s best entertaining blog of the year. “It’s an easy way to dress up a table setting, especially a simple white plate. … I recommend investing in a few different colored ones, but also white and black ones.” Her picks are the Buffet Napkins from World Market, which come in a set of six in 27 colors ($9.99, worldmarket.com).